Psychotropic medications are designed to help people with psychological concerns. There are many different types of medications that target different symptoms like anxiety, depression, attentional deficits, perceptual disturbances, obsessive behaviors, sleep disorders, etc.
Like medications, counseling also serves to alleviate these same symptoms. There are many different techniques that counselors use to help individuals with each of the above concerns.
This brings up a question: “Why bother with counseling?”
Whether or not one is taking medication, there are many reasons to seek counseling. One reason is that you can learn why you might be struggling with certain symptoms. It is possible that some of your distress is biological or genetic, but often there are environmental reasons (possibly beyond your current awareness) from your past or current situation that cause some of your concerns to arise. If you are only taking medication, and it is (hopefully) working, you might have a lack of desire to learn about the underlying reasons for your distress. And when things in life get stressful, those same distressing symptoms could flare back up and you find yourself “without a leg to stand on.” If you are engaged in counseling, you learn the reasons for the distress. With this knowledge, you can learn skills (tailored to your particular situation) that you can use to cope with distress during the difficult times, and you find yourself more in control.
Another reason to seek counseling is self-knowledge. Even though you are somewhat aware of what is happening in your head, it is certain that there are some secrets inside that you’d really like to know about. One way that you learn about yourself is by bouncing your ideas off of another person. Counseling is a great opportunity to do this with someone who is trained to pick up on your “blind spots” (things you might not be aware of). Another way you learn about yourself is through another’s feedback. Although you can gain feedback from anyone, sometimes friends are uncomfortable giving you the truth. Think about it. How do you feel when someone asks you to give them your opinion on their behavior, when you know your truthful answer will hurt them? Isn’t it just easier to tell a “little white lie”? One of the greatest things I do for my clients is ensure my honesty in my feedback with them. My clients are coming to me for my help, so I think a little lack of comfort is a small price to pay for a real chance at learning and growing. Medications can help calm symptoms so that it is easier to do this work, but they cannot replace this work.
Still another reason to seek counseling is self-esteem. I think engaging in counseling is like becoming a self-made woman or man. It is taking the pen back in the writing of our life story. When we successfully work on ourselves psychologically, it results in not only the alleviation of symptoms, but also in a sense of accomplishment and pride. It was hard work, but we did it! And this means we are capable of learning and changing and are in control of our lives. And this recognition often affects other aspects of our situations for the better. If medication is all that is utilized, we might never realize our potential and consequently not give ourselves the credit we deserve.
Finally, counseling inevitably affects relationships for the better. When a therapeutic relationship is initiated, it can be a model for other relationships in our lives. Frequently, people come to counseling hurt, fearful, and uncertain about their relationships. Therapy gives individuals the opportunity to experience an unbiased, supportive, trusting, and safe environment to explore relational and personal dynamics that are not working. Although couples work is usually most helpful to relational distress, individual work can uncover possible unhealthy relational patterns and help us learn helpful skills. Medication can certainly help people cope with relationship distress, but it assumes that the person taking the medication is the problem. In my experience, it takes two to tango and placing the blame on only one party makes the situation worse. Additionally, without the knowledge gained from counseling, the dysfunction will likely continue.
Although my technical knowledge of different psychotropic medications is limited, I know that they can be helpful and sometimes necessary for certain individuals. I am supportive of most of my clients who seek to take psychotropic medications. Although they certainly have their merit when used alone, when taken in conjunction with counseling, progress is typically made faster and more efficiently. Furthermore, there is not a drug that can replace personal growth.